The Bones of my Father

fosas2_webOne of the things I promised myself when I retired was that I was going to write a book that would get published. I’d written books before but never had the guts to send them to anyone; the shrink said it was fear of rejection, a fear I no longer possess (see, Rick!). I’ve written piles of articles, though. So I started the latest project a couple of years ago under the very original title of Title. It began to take shape thanks to stories coming out in Spain about the need to dig up common graves that had been filled by both sides of the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939). Somewhere on my computer is a bunch of research, some of which was lost thanks to well-meaning friends who decided I wasn’t coming back from hospital about a year ago and removed my computer with the intention of preventing its theft. Long story: I did come back but the computer didn’t. I have been able unearth quite a lot, including an introduction, which I am happy to present below and expect constructive criticisms from all and sundry. (Not too many sundries, please, preferably those who know something about writing)

“We have found forty-three bodies in or near the cave,” said the official in answer to a question from one of the five journalists sitting on sticky plastic chairs in front of him. He clutched the makeshift lectern, his white knuckles striving to hold it against its natural wobble on the uneven stone floor.

Behind him was a faded flag on a pole made of a rough tree branch. This was not the usual press conference held in the comfortable air-conditioned conference room just a few steps from his office in Cádiz. The sweat poured down his face and turned his collar a deeper blue than the rest of his shirt. It was quite possible that the same deeper blue round the front would meet the rings under his arms. The air was dry and hot, very hot; it smelled of dust and dried vegetation, of goat shit and dead beetles. The official couldn’t wait to leave.

The larger of the cabins at this campsite had become the centre of operations for yet another dig into the side of a rocky hill deep in the cork forest of the Ronda mountain range. The dig had taken place earlier that year, when the ground was softer in this range that at any given time had been the hideout of bandits, smugglers, losers of wars and gainers of peace.

The losers, many of them, ended up dead or lost. There were no numbers for them. For many years nobody was interested in them, in what had happened to them, where they were buried or thrown into common graves.

It was the rumours among the elders of the scattered hamlet that had eventually brought the digging team here, two eager young archaeologists on an experience-gaining scholarship and the anthropologist who now sat uncomfortably beside the lectern and her boss. The digging team had grown as the bodies increased in number, though. Forty-three was a goodly number for this terrain.

Some time early the previous year a toothless old woman, dressed in the black of widowhood that had long faded to a dusty brown, had assured the digger’s advance team that the bodies had been buried over there, below the ridge you could see from the road. She knew because her father was shot and buried there. She had seen it from on top of the rock that sticks out over to the left, in front of the cave where she hid with her mother and sisters when the men came to take her father away.

 This cabin was usually used as a gathering place for school excursions at Easter but otherwise for the chickens who even now wandered in and out. It had become the conference room now, although the press conference had attracted only five journalists, mainly young apprentices not too happy to be here.

Of course, the discovery of the bodies was hardly news any more. It was happening all over Spain. They kept on being dug up, the dead, from ditches at the side of lost highways or main tourist thoroughfares, from the back lots of long-closed cemeteries, chucked over the walls of abandoned farms and buried only by Nature, from the bottom of escarpments or from the dried out mud at the bottom of lakes. And everywhere they turned up, there was always a group of very elderly women, sometimes in the company of their less elderly sons and daughters. And sometimes it was the sons and daughters on their own, who had promised their mothers that their fathers would be found one day.

At the back of the room, standing, shuffling, was a group of local people who would never become used to the presence of so much officialdom. A little apart from this group stood a man they knew only because he had come so often over the last few months that he now merited a nod as a greeting. They recognised him because he always wore the same pinstripe trousers, the black faja wrapped around his slender waist and the cap that matched his trousers. Today, though, he was also clutching another cap that looked an odd mixture of dirty grays and browns. He was not from any of the scattered houses and cortijos  in this valley, but he spoke as though he knew it well. He was from a village further down the mountain.

(C) Copyright Alberto Bullrich 2015

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